Concert Halls, chapels, churches, cathedrals – all great venues for music. Some buildings are modern and sleek; some mediocre to look at; some not too good on the acoustics; some spectacular in both sound and sight. The range of performers: solo singers, small choral groups and choirs, solo instrumentalists, ensembles and orchestras – all to play for us, so to speak. And a huge range of instruments, most travelling with their owners and brought in for each event.
One instrument doesn’t travel however. It’s always present, a permanent fixture. Can we imagine a concert hall, a chapel or church or cathedral, without the mighty organ? Haven’t we all thrilled at wandering into such a place to find, unexpectedly, an organist practising? Haven’t we thrilled so much more to a performance in a service or concert or organ recital? Well I certainly have, and my sixth disc is a tribute to that majestic instrument and the stunning sounds it can make. And a tribute to the hands-and-feet acrobatics of the organists; and to the composers, naturally.
A few times, as teenagers, a friend and I would go to the Birmingham Oratory where he was allowed to practise. The Oratory was founded incidentally by John (now St John) Henry Newman who composed the poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, my DID–3. My pal was learning to play the organ and was already playing well. Up in the organ loft, sitting near the console as he hammered, levered, stopped and pedalled – not the best terms but you know what I mean – and with the massive structure occasionally shaking at the thunderous bits, I began to appreciate the matchless flexibility and complexity of this daunting instrument, able to produce the gentlest, most sensitive of sounds through to the roar of a battlefield.
Did I say concert halls, chapels, churches and cathedrals? Yes, twice. Well, how about dance halls and a shopping mall? Here in Britain we have the Mighty Wurlitzer in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom; and in the USA in Macy’s in Philadelphia you’ll find the largest functioning musical instrument in the world, the Wanamaker Organ with over 28,000 pipes. If anyone has the interest and five minutes to spare have a look at this: The Wanamaker Organ – Inside the world’s largest operating musical instrument.
So what to choose for the sixth disc? First thoughts turned, perhaps inevitably, to Bach; then to his ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; then to others of his works; then I realised that many were favourites; and then I got lost. So to other composers from the 16th to 19th centuries. Then onwards to more recent, contemporary works. I’ve settled on a firm favourite from the 19th century, perhaps not in the first league of the greats but great enough for me.
It’s the Toccata from “Suite Gothique” by Léon Boëllmann, Opus 25. Like me you might think “Who? What’s that?”. But when you hear it you might join me in saying, “Oh that’s what it is! Of course I know it!”.
My thanks to blogmaster Tim again. We spent over an hour looking for a version good in visuals and sound. This is what we chose, all pretty OK except perhaps for the organ’s final trumpet chords which I gather are too prominent … though it doesn’t bother me.
Here it is: